Solar Power


As we like to spend a lot of time at campsites without electricity and now have 2 fridges, one of which has a small freezer, it made sense to look more closely at the solar power options available.

For our readers in Europe a little explanation may be necessary.

  • Generally, when driving, the alternator in the vehicle charges the bakkie battery and the auxiliary battery.  Now, with the caravan in tow, the ‘van battery is also being charged.  

  • When we are parked up camping the fridges can run off 220 volts when available or, when out in the bush with no mains, the fridge in the bakkie runs from the auxiliary battery and the fridge/freezer in the van runs from the ‘van battery. It is possible to run the bakkie to recharge the batteries or use a portable generator but these are not options for us or indeed many other travellers in Africa.

In the past few years, while we have been in Africa, solar power has become both cheaper and more convenient. But as with all technological innovation – If you can buy it, it’s out of date and when you’ve bought it, it becomes cheaper! But you’ve got to start sometime!

 

Our kit
We bought an 85 watt solar panel, with a regulator to produce 12 volts (for battery charging) and associated cabling. This gives a maximum of just under 5 Amps in bright Namibian sunshine. In good conditions the sun could easily provide 40+ AmpHours a day. This, we found, is enough for the batteries  to keep the 50 litre fridge / freezer (10 litre freezer at -6°C) and the 40 litre fridge (3°C) ticking over nicely at the ambient daytime temperature of about 25°C.

With this set-up it meant that that we had to keep swapping the feed from the solar panel to the vehicle and then to the ‘van two or three times each day to maintain the charge in each of the batteries. This, as well as orienting the panel to the sun for optimum charging, was a bit of a pain so we got another smaller (45 Watt) solar panel to use for the bakkie battery. This means that we can keep both batteries fully charged and running the fridges even in less than ideal sunshine conditions.

 

We sourced our first panel (as a complete kit) from Bushpower.  Jaques gave sound advice and quality products at a very good price. www.bushpower.co.za .  The only thing needed was a folding stand that was easily made from aluminium tube and other bits and pieces.
We can now stay in the bush for extended periods and enjoy our cool drinks, beers and braai vleis.

Our Hilux.

Buying a vehicle.

A comparison of the camping setups that we've used.

Solar power.

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